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Professor Emeritus

Email: donald.nonini(@)



Areas of Interest

Urban anthropology; political anthropology; class, race, ethnic and gender inequalities; food studies; Chinese in Southeast Asia; the southern U.S.; China.


Ph.D. in Anthropology, Stanford University, 1983.

Research Background

Fieldwork Experience: Penang state, West Malaysia, 1978-1980, 1985 and summers 1990-1992, 1997, 2002, 2007; Australia, summers 2000, 2003; North Carolina, U.S., 1997, 2010-2012; Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2016.

Present Research: My current research has three foci. First, I am completing an ethnographic study of local food activism in four sites in North Carolina to investigate the ways in which two kinds of food activism – promoting local food and farming, and providing food security for the hungry – have generated DIY social projects, instead of broad-based social movements. I seek to discover what the implications of this activism are within the contemporary neoliberal United States. Second, I am engaged in a comparative study of the urban commons in housing in Europe and Southeast Asia. Third, I maintain a long-term research interest in the class and ethnic politics of the Chinese populations of Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

I am broadly interested in the study of how the unequal distribution of urban-based resources (food, housing, etc.) develops along the lines of class, ethnic differences, and racial divisions in contemporary cities, and of how social activism and social movements bridges, reduces, or reinforces these inequalities. Most recently, this interest has led me to try to understand better how social movements “scale up” (or fail to), and to investigate how and why scale matters in urban political practice.

In these three research areas, I am the author or editor of several books, most recently, “Getting By”: Class and State Formation among Chinese in Malaysia (Cornell, 2015)  ; editor, A Companion to Urban Anthropology (Blackwell, 2014); editor, The Global Idea of ‘the Commons,’ (Berghahn, 2007); and co-author of Local Democracy Under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics with Dorothy Holland, Catherine Lutz, et al. (NYU Press, 2007). I am also the author of numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on these topics. I have won research grants from the National Science Foundation (3); the Rockefeller Foundation; and the UNC Institute for the Arts & Humanities (3). Most recently, I received a 2016 Workshop grant from the Wenner Gren Foundation to convene a workshop on the politics of scale. I am a co-recipient of the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Best Book in the Critical Study of North America, 2008-2009, for Local Democracy under Siege.

I teach undergraduate courses in Anthropological Perspectives of Society & Culture (Anth 294), Urban Anthropology (Anth 567), The Chinese Diaspora of the Asia Pacific (Anth 578), Anthropology and Marxism (Anth 449), Political Anthropology (Anth 491),  and  Alternative Economic Systems (Anth 466).  I have taught graduate seminars in urban anthropology, critical theories of power, and political economy.

In addition to my academic research, since 2012, I have been active as an engaged scholar serving as principal and co-founder of Communecos, a non-profit organization in Durham, NC dedicated to public education on the environment and alternative economies, and as author on its blogsite.